NEAR ALEPPO (Syria) - Troops blasted a string of rebel-held districts in Syria's commercial capital Aleppo with shells and machinegun fire on Monday, according to activists.
The early morning bombardment was focused on the southwestern district of Salaheddin, a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army, made up of deserters and armed civilians, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission.
The army said later that it had overrun Salaheddin, although the rebels denied the claim.
"The Syrian army took control of part of Salaheddin district and continues its offensive," a security official said on the third day of an army onslaught against rebels in the northern city.
But Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army military council of Aleppo, rejected the report and insisted government troops had "not progressed one metre (yard)."
Official news agency SANA announced Sunday night that loyalist troops were in the process of "cleansing" Salaheddin district of "terrorists" -- the regime's blanket term for the opposition.
Inside the embattled district, whole streets and buildings were damaged, and electricity cables hung between them, said a correspondent at the scene.
Despite the onslaught, rebels have managed to keep control of several districts in eastern Aleppo, including Sakhur, Sheikh Kader, Tareek al-Bab and Shaar.
Marjeh was also under rebel control, the reporter said.
While battles raged nearby, about 200 people waited in a queue on Monday morning to buy their daily bread from a rebel-controlled bakery.
In contested neighbourhoods, rebels appeared to have taken a defensive position, guarding them against attack by troops.
Among the fighters in Salaheddin were several Libyan men, who travelled to Syria in solidarity with the anti-regime uprising, the correspondent added.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said Sakhur district was also hit by shells and by machinegun fire, with regime forces deploying helicopter gunships against the rebels.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said clashes between troops and rebels erupted early morning near the air force intelligence headquarters in Zahraa district.
The violence comes as the army pressed an offensive against rebels in Aleppo into a third straight day, while at least 13 people were killed across the country, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
The regime assault on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants, began after military reinforcements arrived on Saturday.
The United Nations estimates that around 200,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Aleppo and that many more are trapped.
Head of UN humanitarian operations, Valerie Amos, requested that relief organisations be granted "secure access" to the northern city.